August 23, 2017

Our Divided Nation

Photo Courtesy of abc7ny.com

Photo Courtesy of abc7ny.com

by Lela Biggus ’18

Opinion Staff

I think we’ve all read plenty of opinions this week. In fact, from the news media to snippets on Snapchat to your dad ranting on Facebook, there are enough extreme opinions on the Presidential Election out there to choke a horse. Usually, I find myself very sure of where I stand politically—I always know whose side I am on.

However, in the last six days, I have gone from being so confident in my convictions to not knowing what to think anymore. The anti-Trump protests that have engulfed and enlivened major cities across the country—and that shows no sign of backing down almost a full week after that infamous election night—pose for me the great existential question of the week: Are these protestors in the right? I have no idea. 

This week’s demonstrations in the streets of downtown Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York City, San Francisco, and elsewhere must be one of two things. They are either a strictly emotional response to a major upset followed by a reluctance to try to work within the parameters of a sad but true reality, or they signify vibrant, young, progressive America’s refusal to backtrack on the social strides it has made, especially over the last decade.

From the latter point of view, these people are fighting for their rights to continue to exist in peace as equal citizens of the United States. They are fighting for justice under the Constitution and for its power to protect every person’s right to life, liberty, and happiness.

They want to be welcomed rather than rejected. They want to be respected by the government that serves them. They want to remain proud to be Americans. These are legitimate desires. I would find it very difficult to tell them to “calm down.”

From the former point of view, everything about these protests is reactive. Nothing about them is actually productive. Protestors hold up signs that read “Dump Trump” and chant “Not my president” over and over again.

These are protests against the individual who has been elected to be the next President of the United States through the same electoral system that put Barack Obama in office in 2008 and 2012.

Instead of acting like sore losers, we should make like Obama and Hillary Clinton and encourage respect for our great nation’s democracy and, therefore, the person it spat out to lead us. So which side is right?

I do know one thing. The same solidarity we see today with impassioned street protests—with people willing to miss days of school and work just to show their support in this mass movement against the President-Elect—must be just as alive when the day comes that actual legislation makes its way in front of Congress that jeopardizes the rights of the people of color, especially women of color, Muslim Americans, undocumented immigrants, documented families of immigrants, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities that these protestors represent and advocate for.

If not, when all is said and done, all of these protests and promises of solidarity and love will have meant nothing.

The opinions I hold are just reiterations of those opinions I have heard throughout my life, that I have been taught to have, that I have taken up for my own, and that I do not yet reject. Knowing this, I cannot claim to have a well-informed understanding of what is just right now. I have no idea what the right thing to do is.

I learned this week what it means when we act on our opinions, when we share them with strangers, when we scream them in the streets. We claim their strength, their unwillingness to waver. We claim certainty of their truth, if only a partial truth, because we have seen and we have experienced those matters which they concern.

In truth, opinions are such flaky things. In their subjective nature, they are always susceptible to change. If we listen earnestly, we may learn to truly hear the people who seem fundamentally different than us. We may be moved to reassess our convictions. They may evolve in any way they like.

Whether or not they will is not up to you. Choosing to listen is up to you.

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